“Word-Centered Church”, by Jonathan Leeman (book review)

“Word-Centered Church”, one of many excellent resources in the 9Marks line of books, is a worthwhile title to add to one’s bookshelf.  In fact, some readers may already have this one under its previously-released title, “Reverberation”, from 2011.  I didn’t read the first edition, so I can’t speak to what has been changed, but can speak of the book on its present merits.

As the title so aptly suggests, Mr. Leeman’s intent is to inspire pastors, teachers, and members alike that the Bible – God’s Word – must be the center of our worship, for it is the Word of God that creates His people, gathers His people, sanctifies His people, and sends His people.  It is divided into three parts – Part 1: The Word (Acts; Invites and Divides; Frees; Gathers), Part 2: The Sermon (Exposes, Announces, Confronts), and Part 3: The Church (Sings, Prays, Disciples, Scatters and Once Again Gathers).

Jonathan Leeman unashamedly makes the case that Christian gatherings must absolutely be distinct from the world, for God’s Word is different from that of the world.  God’s Word reveals to us that God that God is holy, that we are sinners, that God’s wrath over sin looms over sinners, that we need a Savior, that Jesus Christ is that one-and-only Savior, and that we will all face God’s judgment – either with or without Jesus as our Substitute.

This book is full of helpful insight for not only pastors/elders, but also for small/community group leaders and church members alike. 

For pastors, it will serve as a solid reminder that leaning on worldly church growth models is a hopeless endeavor.  While numbers may increase for a season, what will personal growth be built upon, new programs, cool music, merely motivational sermons? 

For community group leaders (and this hit home with me), this book is a strong reminder that we Christians are brought together by the Word of God, and we gather corporately and in small groups under the Word of God.  Like the pastors, community group leaders should be focused on reminding members of the group of the gospel, of the hope we have, and of the joy of sins forgiven.  It reminds us to pray God’s word together.

Finally, for the church and community group member, this book helps establish a strong foundation that we ought to be looking for God’s Word in our large and small gatherings, and that our worship and daily lives must be centered on His Word.  To expect new programs, cool music, or merely motivational speeches misses the mark of the true gospel of Jesus Christ.  We are not saved by or for the next greatest song; we are saved only by the life-giving gospel of Jesus Christ, and the gospel is revealed to us in God’s Word!

In other words, the Word must be the center of all we do as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Rating: I give “Word-Centered Church” 5 out of 5 stars.  It contains both rich theology AND practical application to daily living.

Disclaimer: I received this book free of charge from MP News Room (Moody Publishers) in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine, and I was not required to provide a positive review of it.

Jonathan Leeman


“Savage Jesus”, by Steven Furtick (message examination)

I am not a follower of Steven Furtick, but a friend is.  He recently attended one of Elevation’s services, so I wanted to listen in.  I understand he says many helpful things; but his theology is not very good.  What Steven Furtick said in this particular instance is troubling.  Here we have yet another highly influential preacher undermining God’s word, reducing it to make it something altogether different. 

When Jesus shows up, demons tremble…dysfunction has nowhere to run…and we came to declare today to every evil spirit in our city: ‘Come out in the name of Jesus’.”  (Continuous applause) (21:40 to 22:00).

How many times have you been to church, possessed by this demon – Don’t get caught up on ‘demon’; I know some of y’all are so scared right now looking for the exits, ‘We’re not going to do anything like that’.   If you make this Bible passage about demons, you missed the entire demonstration of authority because we don’t call it ‘demons’ anymore.  In the ancient world, everything was a demon.  Runny nose – demon! (audience laughter)  I’m serious!  Mental illness was demon.  They didn’t have tests and pills and all this, so it was just a demon.  Now, do demons still exist today?  Yes, but do we call them ‘dysfunctions’ instead? (22:13 to 24:00).

I want to know this: If Jesus was, in fact, talking to a “dysfunction”, then how did the “dysfunction” answer him?  How does dysfunction vocalize an answer?  Instead, Mark the gospel writer, makes it abundantly clear that Jesus spoke to the literal demon.  It may have even been multiple demons in the man, since the demon asks, "What do you want from us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?"  Or maybe there were multiple demons in the crowd, and this one was the "spokesman", so to speak.  Nevertheless, not to be confused with it being a mere state of mind or condition, Mark tells us clearly the demon actually replied to Jesus. 

While Jesus was speaking to the man, He commanded the literal demon within the literal man.  He said, “Be silent, and come out of him.”  The “him” referred to in that passage was the literal man.  Then in verse 25, Mark explained that the demon convulsed the man, crying with a loud voice as it left the literal man.  The people then exclaimed that Jesus’s authority was so authoritative that even unclean spirits obey his command!  Once again, Mark is clear that this is a spirit; literally, a demon – not a dysfunction or psychotic condition that can be treated with pills or changed behavior.

I am making no judgments on the man’s soul or position before God.  However, if you’re a listener/follower of Furtick’s, be very careful….extremely careful.  Don’t get caught up in his charisma and flashy-ness, but feast on the true Word of God as clearly revealed in Scripture.  May Jesus Christ be glorified in the preaching, reading, studying, and singing of His Word; not minimized.


"The Hidden Enemy", by Dr. Michael Youssef (book review)

I’ve listened to and had moderately followed Dr. Michael Youssef in past years.  Having a general understanding his background, I thought this title would be interesting to read and review.  At the outset, however, I’ll let you know that this book wasn’t one of my favorites.  It wasn’t bad – not by any stretch of the imagination – but it was just kind-of ok.

The premise of the book surrounds the problems facing us (apparently Western civilization?) today, both externally and internally.  Externally, we have threats coming from radical Islamists who seek to establish Sharia law globally, while internally our media propaganda is another. 

Yet, I found it difficult to distinguish exactly WHO Dr. Youssef was referring to when he explained these threats.  Was he referring to the Church?  Or was he referring to America, to Western civilization as a whole?  I wasn’t exactly sure, because there were some aspects where Dr. Youssef pointed to the fact that the Church will not be overcome by the Enemy…yet he frequently spoke of Islamists and Media gnawing away at our civilization. 

For example, on page 125, he writes, “Let’s not be cowed into silence by those who seek to conquer our civilization (emphasis mine).  Just two pages later he writes, “How can we defend our civilization (emphasis mine) against the Islamists who seek to conquer us?”  Here’s the issue: Nations rise and fall at God’s direction.  None arises a moment sooner than He commands, and not a single one will last even one second beyond God’s decree.  The Bible and God's timetable of events is not centered on Western civilization; nor should our theology.  

The resounding passage of the book came from John 14:6 – “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” – Jesus.  While Dr. Youssef frequently quoted and explained (albeit, very softly) this passage, especially in the light of the current trend that our civilization seems to think all paths are equal paths to God, I was left wondering if an unbeliever reading this book would understand the gospel of Jesus Christ

Although Dr. Youssef spoke of Jesus dying on the cross for sin, he didn’t clearly explain why the death of Jesus was necessary in the first place.  It came across as, "Jesus died for sin?  Oh, what a nice gesture."  I would have liked to see just one chapter devoted to the big story of the atonement.  I would have liked to see Dr. Youssef explain in more detail God’s holiness, our sinfulness, and our being under God’s wrath for sin.  I would have liked to see him explain that Jesus’s death was necessary to save sinners, because it is only the righteousness of Jesus that covers us as God looks upon us in His holy judgment of us…thereby taking readers to John 14:6

Instead, there was just the soft, easy gospel approach that is all too common in the West.  It wasn’t heretical theology; just soft.  That said, I know and believe God is faithful to use His word to accomplish His purposes to His glory, even where and when we are flawed or limited our presentation of it.  So, I can at least give Dr. Youssef credit for not altogether ignoring it.

Overall, the book was an easy read peppered with current events that support his position about the enemies proposed at the beginning of the book.  I’ll not spoil the end of the book, where he explains who the “hidden” enemy is.  It wasn't a surprise, but if you're still interested in reading it, then it at least won't be spoiled by me.

Rating: I give this one just 2 ½ stars.  It wasn’t bad, but I simply wasn’t interested, and it didn’t keep me deeply engaged, and the gospel message could have been better presented.  I certainly would have been disappointed if I had paid the suggested $16.99 for it.

Disclaimer:  I received this book free of charge from Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine, and I was not required to provide a positive review.


"Long Before Luther", by Nathan Busenitz (book review)

Nathan Busenitz, in "Long Before Luther", seeks to answer the question, "Did the early church teach justification by faith, or was it a 16th-century invention of the Reformers?" 

Throughout 11 chapters and 164 pages, Busenitz makes it very clear that "examples abound of authors who used the language of 'faith alone' to describe salvation'" (p.161).  Not only did they describe salvation as such, but authors also wrote of the distinction between justification and sanctification, as well as the "Great Exchange": the righteousness of Christ imputed upon the sinner, and the sins of the sinner imputed upon Christ.

Regardless of whether the early church fathers wrote as they did, the Reformers' first appeal was to scripture, the final authority of all matters of faith and doctrine.  There, they drew upon Jesus and Paul, finding full assurance that the Scriptures taught justification by faith.  One such example to support their theology looked like the thief on the cross, who found justification without performing a single work.

One of the neatest chapters was the appendix, "Voices From History", where Busenitz quotes from several church fathers, tracing them through the centuries, beginning with Jesus, Peter, Paul, and John.  The list also includes Clement of Rome and Polycarp (1st and 2nd centuries) through the years to Jerome and Augustine (4th century), Julian of Toledo (7th century), and Bernard of Clairvaux (12th century), etc.  Each century is represented, and it is truly interesting to see how opponents of sola fide can claim the church fathers never taught such a thing.

But, as Busenitz shows, sola fide has been taught long before Luther.

RATING: I give "Long Before Luther" 4 out of 5 stars.  It was very good...very informative...but not a page-turner.  There was a lot of redundancy, but I suppose the redundancy was necessary since so many church fathers taught sola fide.  It's also good to be repeatedly reminded of the doctrine so that different wordings help it sink in.

DISCLAIMER: I received this book free of charge from Moody Publishers (MP Newsroom) in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine, and I was not required to provide an unbiased review of it.


"Life in Community", by Dustin Willis (book review)

I’m not exactly sure where I want to begin praising this book.  Do I begin by pointing out all the areas where I’m challenged to change my way of thinking about how we “do community” in the church today?  Or do I begin by saying, “Wow, I sure could have used this several years ago!”?

Dustin Willis, who serves with the North American Mission Board, challenges readers to put away the old notions that a “small group” or a “community group” is something we do, rather than becoming a way of life for its members.  While it may be “easy” to clock in once a week and say hello to the small group members, add a few tidbits of insight in that week’s Bible study, and return home, this is not what God intended for “community”. 

Instead, we are to be a group who serves each other, cares for each other, loves each other, forgives each other, confesses sin to each other, and laughs and cries with each other.  Every person alive wants desperately to belong to something. But Christians have the greatest gift that unites us into a bond stronger than any family tie: the gospel of Jesus Christ.  As sinners forgiven by God in Jesus Christ, we not only become God’s sons and daughters, but we become brothers and sisters with other redeemed sinners.

REFLECTIONS: And it is in that light that we ought to pursue helping others grow.  We do this by reaching beyond ourselves, and walking and fighting with others.  How can we do this?

One way is by committing to being community, rather than simply doing community.  Commitment is difficult; growth requires hard work; community life gets messy.  Instead, we would do well to resolve in our hearts and minds that we are committed to the difficult, messy work of carrying others’ burdens not only with them, but sometimes even for them.

A second way we can pursue helping others grow is by helping them discern where they’re gifted, and then encouraging them to put their gift(s) to use for the body of Christ.  Sometimes we like to fill out online surveys to determine where we are gifted, but why don’t we lean other the insights of others to help us pinpoint those gifts more accurately?

A third way is in hospitality.  (This one hurt me.)  Dustin briefly breaks down the differences between simply being a host/entertainer and being hospitable.  An entertainer wants to be the center of attention; one who is hospitable wants to offer others a place of comfort and peace.  Piggy-backing this idea is opening our homes and resources to others.  Our houses ought not simply be places of refuge for our families to “get away” from the world around us, but to draw people into an atmosphere where they can witness what a family changed by the gospel looks like.  As I said, this one touched me deeply because it’s often easy to clean the house, make a nice meal, and feel like we have to be “doing” something.  Rather than simply being together under the banner of the Cross.

CONTENTS: This book is a rather quick read, but it packs a big punch.  It’s 170 pages long, broken into 3 parts (12 chapters), contains a small group study guide, as well as practical helps for leading a group better.

RATING: I give Life in Community 4 out of 5 stars.  I truly enjoyed it, and was inspired by it to think and life differently.

DISCLAIMER: I received this book free of charge from Moody Press in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine, and I was not required to provide a positive review of this title.

Dustin Willis


"On Pastoring", by H.B. Charles (book review)

As I type this review, I’m just five years away from retirement…and I’m only 42 years old.  As expected, I have been in much prayer about what will follow.  A sense of deep longing/desire (some might call it a “calling”) has been churning within me for several years to enter pastoral ministry.  Along with speaking with other godly men about this, I decided to read some books pertaining to ministry, how to discern if this is a call or simply a fanciful dream, etc…which is I why I selected “On Pastoring” for review.  And I’m thankful I picked this up! 

The book wasn’t overly theological or scholastic, as it wasn’t much of an exposition of scripture about the role and responsibilities of pastors.  However, it was saturated in experience and practicality.  In just 30 brief chapters spanning 189 short pages, H.B. Charles Jr., pastor-teacher at the Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida, opens up about many of the ins-and-outs, ups-and-downs, good-and-bad about pastoring…from personal preparation to sermon preparation, from ministering during meetings to godly leadership.  Obviously, many suggestions he made might not suit some, while other insights may very well bless the reader.

While it appeared the intent of the book was to challenge and encourage pastors (by use of such phrases as, “we must…”), I found the book to be helpful as a way of gaining insight to help determine if this was a pursuit for which I am/would be prepared and suitable.  I found myself asking, “Would I be able to do this-or-that?” and “Could I be committed to such-and-such?”

I certainly was challenged and encouraged by insights.  As a result, I long even more-so to continue this pursuit…in spite of its various challenges.  I guess time will only tell what the Lord has in store.

Rating: I give this book 4 stars out of 5.

Disclaimer: I received this book free of charge from  Moody Publishers in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine, and I was not required to provide a positive review.


"Transforming Grace", by Jerry Bridges (book review)

There are a handful of books I consider "must- reads" for Christians. There are also some books I consider must-re-reads. And there are some authors and teachers I consider true gifts of God to Christians. This book, "Transforming Grace", and its author, Jerry Bridges fit all three categories mentioned. I have read two of Bridges' other books, and was greatly helped by them. He is solid in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and is a trustworthy writer who is easy to comprehend.

I knew from the Introduction and Chapter 1 that I absolutely needed this book by this beloved saint. I realized from the early pages that I was caught in the "performance trap", where I was convinced I've been saved by God's grace, but that I now needed to - in an almost legalistic way - perform in a way to convince God to keep me.

I knew it was a wrong belief of the gospel of Jesus Christ, but I hadn't convinced myself to abandon this pernicious lie. Thankfully, brother Bridges revealed not only my need to abandon the performance trap, but to recognize that every aspect of my life is utterly dependent on God's outpouring of grace on me.

I suspect I'm not alone in this realization, because this printed version comes equipped with a full-length discussion guide at the end, which is nearly a short book itself! It is apparent that many in the body of Christ are impacted by this lie that we need to perform in order to merit God's continued grace and are in need of the gospel's correction.

If you're planning to buy another book full off fluff, and ponies and rainbows, I challenge you to abandon that pursuit and pick this one instead. You will not only not regret your choice, but you will be transformed.... by God's grace alone.

Rating: Undoubtedly 5 stars.

Disclaimer: I received this book free of charge from the Tyndale Blogging Network. All opinions are mine, and I was not required to provide a positive review of it.